The Saugerties Central School District and the Ulster County Board of Elections struck a deal this month for the use of voting machines for the district’s annual budget vote and school board elections planned for May. At a meeting March 12, the Board of Education voted to maintain polling places and voting hours rather than make any changes.
In autumn, the Board of Elections notified school districts across Ulster County that their voting machines would no longer be available, in part due to New York State’s decision to hold its federal, state and local primaries on a single day in June. But there were other factors as well.
“It’s been our experience with this partnership that it just was not working out for the Board (of Elections),” said Board of Elections Co-Commissioner Ashley Dittus in early February, explaining that the process was labor and time intensive, and that even though school districts were billed for use of the machines, the arrangement didn’t cover all costs to the Board. There was also an issue of training, which was moved from late summer to early spring to accommodate the mid-May school district voting cycle.
The Board of Elections reduced the number of voting machines Saugerties will be able to use on Tuesday, May 21 to four. School Board President Robert Thomann said this week that while moving to a single polling place at Saugerties High School was discussed, trustees ultimately decided to maintain its voting options at all four of the district’s elementary schools.
While some other local school districts are reducing voting hours to accommodate the reduction in polling places and voting booths, school officials in Saugerties decided to keep both the locations and hours of 6 a.m.-9 p.m. the same.
“Ultimately we decided to keep things as they were for this year, and if we’re going to make changes we’ll look at that for next year,” said Thomann. “It was too late to notify people of a change. There are questions of equity. We know people can get to the polling places. If you have someone without a vehicle maybe they couldn’t get to the high school.”
Leasing the Board of Elections’ voting machines means the SCSD can hold off on deciding whether to try and establish a more permanent arrangement for using the machines or buy their own, a potentially expensive option. Optical scan voting systems, which use a scanner to read marked paper ballots and tally the results, cost around $15,000 apiece.
While the matter is settled for 2019, Thomann said the district will have to reopen discussions with the Board of Elections sometime after the May election cycle to see whether the temporary arrangement is viable for both sides.
“We don’t know if we’re going to get four voting machines for next year,” Thomann said. “That could all change.”